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On the edge of Waterloo

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Posted: Monday, August 3, 2009 11:00 pm

Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint says if Obama fails on health care, it will “break him;” it will be “his Waterloo.” DeMint is right.

Those of a certain age remember the Jeff MacNelly cartoons during the Carter administration. As each day seemingly brought fresh setbacks, MacNelly’s cartoon president shrank until he was a mini-me struggling amid the vast space of the presidential chair. Although he lacks Carter’s tut-tut lecturing and, so far, foreign policy disasters, although Americans are proud of themselves for electing an African-American president, I sense Obama shrinking every day.

Many of the failures are not his. Obama inherited a nation in greater trouble than at any time since 1933, perhaps 1861. Not for nothing did the Onion have the headline: “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.” In addition to the financial panic, Obama got two wars, foreign policy in disarray, a huge budget deficit, a government that had attacked civil liberties and enshrined torture as policy. He took over a nation that is in hock to China and the petro-states, that has been deindustrialized and seen its middle class devastated by policies to serve the corporate elite. And a nation ill-prepared for climate change or peak oil – indeed, one digging itself ever deeper in the hole.

He and his party, however, continue to make critical missteps.

For Obama, a reliance on the Robert Rubin wing of his party on economic matters, shutting out important dissenting experts, particularly Nobel laureate Joseph Sitglitz, put his administration squarely in the camp of socialized losses and privatized profits. Now “everything’s fine” at Goldman Sachs and the House of Morgan; AIG has gotten off without even a wrist-slapping, and the financial industry has slipped out of the serious re-regulation and criminal prosecutions that its economy-wrecking cascade of swindles deserved. “Nicely done,” as McNulty says to Stringer Bell on The Wire.

Obama’s hunger for consensus makes me as suspicious of the insurance industry’s role in any health care reform as it does of the Lords of Finance in sabotaging the regulatory oversight of Wall Street. I would agree with the need for delay – were it not synonymous with defeat of any chance to come close to providing secure health coverage for all Americans. That’s something taken for granted in every other advanced nation in the world.

This was a time for Give ‘em Hell Harry on certain issues. It becomes ever more clear that it was a mistake not to campaign on a clear, understandable reform of health care – and one that made the insurance companies what they really are: the heartless and venal enemy of the American people. The president doesn’t seem to have it in him. The feared Rahm Emanuel and the “Chicago Way” – huh?

Obama’s desire for bi-partisanship got him exactly nothing. Well, not nothing. It gave us a stimulus that wasted huge amounts on ineffective tax cuts, rather than spending on infrastructure that would generate the future economic activity to pay down George W. Bush’s deficit. And it showed weakness to the Republicans, who have played brilliant defense. The Party that Wrecked America, so thoroughly repudiated in the election, has essentially been running the country by blocking.

The Democratic Party should be asking itself, what’s a majority for? The Patriot Act was rushed through; fixing a health care system that has been gouging and killing Americans, and studied to death, for years – that must be delayed. Which means it must be killed. Any “bi-partisan” bill will be worse than nothing, for it will entail using taxpayer money to add to the obscene profits of the insurance companies, big pharma and for-profit hospitals.

The so-called Blue Dog Democrats should stand tall or resign. Again, they have shown weakness, fearing Republican attacks in their “conservative” districts. Without leadership – without countering the lies of the right and standing up for the majority of Americans who are afraid of losing health care, have lost it, are one illness from bankruptcy – these Democrats deserve to be defeated. And they will be. If voters have a choice between a real Republican and a Democrat who is “bi-partisan,” they will choose the former or just not vote.

The combination of today’s fearful Democrats and the scorched-earth, nihilist Republicans – always really doing the bidding of the powerful corporate masters – will spell the end of the last chance to stop this country’s decline. The Republicans offer no solutions. They don’t want solutions (what good, for example, is a tax-free health savings account when it won’t even make a down payment on an ER visit, and the lost taxes – if the people make enough to pay them – add to the dreaded deficit?).

The Republicans have always hated Social Security. Had they faced a similar Democratic Party and White House in the 1930s, they would have killed it in its crib. They would have stopped rural electrification (actually a good analogy to the health care situation) to please their big utility masters. Without the true moderates and liberals of the old GOP, they would have stopped the Civil Rights acts and the Voting Rights Act. There never would have been clean air or water acts, no COBRA for laid-off workers, or a thousand goods that have flowed from effective liberal government.

The media’s role has been nothing less than shameful: the over coverage of the minority party’s opposition with little skeptical treatment of its failed policies and laughable proposals; the fetish over the deficit after ignoring it for eight years, and no insight into the costs of doing nothing to provide universal health care, to address global warming, etc. While costs have gained the spotlight, the media have been water-carriers for the well-financed lies of the industry and Republicans. There has been little reporting on the damage the health care status quo causes to real people every day; the enormous profits this gamed system generates for the insurance industry; the huge amount big pharma spends on marketing, not research; the truth about the superior health care in most other advanced nations, especially Canada. With the nation facing unprecedented challenges, the electronic media frets over the president’s birth certificate. However craven, bought or silly, the media have terrified the already spineless Democrats.

It is still early but the signs are not good. We must wonder: what will be the consequences for the country of another failed presidency?

How many can we stand before the last institutional props of the republic finally give way?

Maybe it would have been better for John McCain to have won. With Sarah Palin a heartbeat away. Apparently the Republicans didn’t do enough damage to ensure their eternal ignominy – and a solid, real Democratic majority in Congress. Now it may be too late.


Jon Talton is a journalist and author living in Seattle. He writes the “On the Economy” column for the Seattle Times and is editor and publisher of the blog Rogue Columnist (www.roguecolumnist.com).

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